By Rod Kamleshwaran, partner, GainingEdge

Yes, absolutely. For DMOs to ignore hybrid events will be a mistake.

Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs’) traditional role has been to develop and promote the destination and attract visitors that generate direct and indirect expenditure in the local economy along with intangible social and economic benefits.

Attracting “visitor expenditure” is the underlying motivation for public sector investment in DMOs and convention centres. Expenditure in venues, hotels, dining, retail, attractions, etc.

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc, it is accelerating the shift of conference & meetings to virtual and hybrid formats. It is extremely difficult to predict when freedom to travel and confidence will return. But it will not be any time soon.

Virtual and hybrid events will fill the void in this transition period and beyond.

Virtual only events are attractive right now due to regulatory barriers on travel and gatherings. The demand is expected to subside once the barriers to physical events are lifted and confidence returns. A small share of events will opt to remain in virtual only mode. An extended Covid period may favour permanent shifts due to a longer take-up period and improvement in technology.

But virtual events have no physical attendance i.e. no visitor expenditure. They are not typically anchored to a destination.

DMOs cannot justify pursuit of virtual events that don’t directly lead to visitor expenditure or hotel taxes, except when there is a compelling destination profiling opportunity.

Hybrid events are different. These events are a mix of physical and virtual. They are anchored to a destination and lead to actual visitor expenditure.

Prior to Covid-19, hybrid events had negligible market share. After Covid-19, hybrid events will represent a market share that DMOs cannot ignore.

This will occur despite the aggressive response of governments, airlines, hotels, and DMOs to attract physical events that generate visitor expenditure.

DMOs don’t know which specific events will choose this format, but it will be many. They can’t afford to wait. DMOs that act now will gain advantage.

DMOs should continue to prioritise resources on physical events that generate maximum expenditure and taxes. But they should also pursue hybrid events that meet set thresholds for visitors, expenditure and destination profile.

DMOs need to let planners know if and how they will support hybrid events. They need to take inventory of their venues and improve hybrid venue capability. They need to figure out how to leverage the vastly larger audience, and how to deal with multi-site hybrid events that involve competing destinations. They need to refine incentives and sales tools to suit both physical and hybrid events. They need a plan now.

Despite the noise about DMOs role in hybrid few have taken action. Singapore and Dubai are two destinations actively building their capacity to attract and host hybrid events.